Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reading Story into Ourselves

" Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it even as an accomplishment and a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are you will be less eager for celebrity. You will not seek in imagination for excitement, of which the vicissitudes of this life, and the anxieties from which you must not hope to be exempted, be your state what it may, will bring with them but too much. "
--Poet Laureate Robert Southey to the as yet unpublished Charlotte Bronte, 1837

The thing that's so powerful about story, is, that because good stories reflect truths of the human condition, it's possible to have your own story grafted onto another story. Those favorites books we have, have increased impact as we revisit them every few years. What mattered when you were 12 is different at 17, and world's apart (yet so familiar still) at 28. Good stories offer a chance to re-read yourself, as you re-read the characters and situations. Who do you identify with now that you once ignored? Where is your heart tugged and what seems implicit, that used to be jaw-dropping?

I spent a little time with friends today talking about our formative books. It's hard moving around so much, knowing that many of my precious volumes with underlining and dogearing by 14 yr old and 21 yr old Kj are sitting in boxes somewhere in the desert, but I still found some quotes and narratives to relfect on, and got to hear some new ones as well.

This event, and the impeccably attuned gifting of a long-desired DVD by a friend who understands the sublteties of wishlists, brought about the reamarkaby refereshing, surprsing and heartbreaking exprience of watching Franco Zeffirelli's 1996 adaptation of "Jane Eyre" tonight. It was this film adaptation that introduced me to the novel which affected my life in no small manner, and pointed me to author Charlotte Bronte, one of my founding mothers, I guess. A voice I value deeply, especially in light of her struggles, and the vast differences in her situation and mine. The irony is not lost on me, as I feel myself being "grafted" onto the story of a 19th century governess, while I'm working on a Master's degree. When I was in my Thomas Hardy phase of 2005, it felt almost unfair of me to be reading about Tess of the D'Urbervilles wandering the Wessex hillside, abandoned and abused because of her naivete and powerlessness, while I switched subway cars on the way to my various New York City jobs as an independant woman, able to make choices for my own future. Stuff for women may still suck, but I have more options than poverty/marriage/governess/prostitute. That is saying a lot when you look back at the last three thousand years.

Franco Zeffirelli says he believes women return to the story of Jane Eyre because it's about a woman on her path to dignity. I think that's true. But for me personally, it's also the story of who I was reading it at 16, who I was reading it for scholarly purposes in college, and who I am watching the film now, at almost-thirty, trying to make my way in the world, wondering what dignity looks like, while also beating Jane to the punch when she looks at herself in the mirror and says "You're a fool". Her story is mine, even if it's just because I'm a reader of her story, and thus, a more focused reader of my own story.
Where do you read your story?

1 comment:

ROBERTA said...

i read jane eyre for the first time in 5th grade. one of the nuns told me i was too young to read such a book. it's still #1 on my best books ever list & i'm 54. i've revisited it many times over the years and i find this quote speaks well to such a classic as this one - "There are books so alive that you're always afraid that while you weren't reading, the book has gone and changed, has shifted like a river; while you went on living, it went on living too, and like a river moved on and moved away. No one has stepped twice into the same river. But did anyone ever step twice into the same book? ~ Marina Tsvetaeva ~
a fellow Bronte fan,